Coming in as the 12th best prospect of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is diminutive Kailer Yamamoto. He’s tore up the WHL for two years but because of his small stature falls down the draft boards.
That doesn’t take away from the talent he possesses. Yamamoto is one of the most skilled and dynamic players in this draft class and he might just be too good for some teams to pass up.
Let’s take a deeper look at the Spokane native.
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-09-29
- Birthplace: Spokane, WSH, USA
- Position: C/LW
- Handedness: R
- Height: 5’8″
- Weight: 160 lbs
- Draft Year Team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
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A pint-sized, yet dynamic, playmaker… small, speedy forward with excellent hockey sense and quick hands…has a strong work ethic that keeps him going…great overall quickness, first-step jump to create separation and an ability to alter speeds to create gaps…sneaky and stealth-like in finding prime scoring ice…very creative with the puck and shows off creative hands…uses his size to squeak through the tightest of holes…is a force in possession as he likes the puck on his stick, and is dangerous as a set-up man or shooter in the offensive zone…poised, clutch and aware…feisty on the forecheck, not physically, but uses his speed to force opponents into rushed plays while clogging up passing lanes with an active stick…one of those rare wingers who has the ability to affect the flow of a game like a center…a very special talent, high octane and cerebral.
Yamamoto is a very small, very highly skilled prospect. What bodes well for Yamamoto besides his elite skill is his high compete level, willingness to play a physical game despite his size and that he has good hockey strength. He is very solid on his skates and can be difficult to push off the puck or knock down. He is very agile and elusive and can find holes and seams in defensive coverage that don’t seem to be available. His shot is deceptive in its release as it is quick, requires little wind up. His greatest asset is his offensive vision and hockey IQ, he sees the ice at an elite level, has eyes in the back of his head and thinks the game at a higher pace.
Similar to Alex DeBrincat from 2016, Yamamoto will be this years undersized, high skill player that falls in the draft below where he should be selected.
Yamamoto doesn’t play like he’s one of the smallest players on the ice, no afraid to get into battles or collisions when the situations arises.
I’ve seen Yamamoto play live, and seen multiple games through video. The kid is relentless in his puck pursuit and takes the punishment when needed. For example, during a game against Vancouver, Yamamoto was battling Bailey Dhaliwal along the boards for the puck. Yamamoto took the abuse from the 6’3″ defender, took the puck out of the corner and created havoc in front. There is no fear in his game, if the puck is loose, he wants it.
At times, it feels like scouts are just pinning any situation where the puck is lost as a ‘it’s because he’s small’. when watching Yamamoto, there isn’t a player who works harder to get into open space. If he does lose a battle, he is quick to re-engage and force pressure on his opponent.
Kailer Yamamoto shows he can play a complete game as he throws a big hit in the Spokane zone. Spokane leads 4-1, with 13:08 left in the 2nd pic.twitter.com/pEiS91Ymx3
— Spokane Chiefs (@spokanechiefs) March 20, 2017
Offensively, one part of the Spokane native’s game is the ability to slip in and out of coverage quickly, creating a passing option for his teammates. This also forces his opponents to change formations and thus lose coverage.
Unfortunately the WHL doesn’t track shooting stats for players, but he doesn’t pass up a chance to shoot. His attack is balanced and keeps opponents guessing. His shot is hard, accurate and quick. He has the ability to pull the puck in and whip it quickly.
On the defensive side, he doesn’t put himself into situations where he needs to battle. Yamamoto reads the play, uses his stick to quickly move the puck out and then transition with speed.
Yamamoto’s game has been compared to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson regularly, and they actually know each other. Johnson’s mom taught Kailer and his brother Keanu to skate, with Tyler taking part in those classes. One quote from an interview with The Hockey News stuck out:
“When he was three or four years old, he was trying moves that I was trying to do – and I was 11,” Johnson said. “And he was able to do some of them. It was always fun to go out on the ice with my mom and see what he could do.”
Not that it points to anything about the 18 year forward now, but interesting to see their paths cross in Spokane.
Both are small and diminutive forwards who are fighting an uphill to succeed but if you are looking for the negative of a player, you can find it, and that will cloud your judgement. The opposite can be true, that you are allow the positives to outweigh the full picture, but when it becomes a trend, you have to notice. You have to notice that Yamamoto is doing everything he can to overcome his size AND producing at alarmingly high rates. Something that Johnson did in the past. Now teams are more cognizant about missing out on those small forwards.
Comparing Yamamoto to the first time draft eligible WHL forwards, Yamamoto was the highest scoring:
A clear step above everyone else including the much higher ranked Nolan Patrick. When you compare him to his CHL counterparts, he still comes out ahead in PPG and rates very well when comparing the goals per game and assists per game:
From primary points, 76 of Yamamoto’s 99 points were goals or primary points – that equated to 1.17 P1/GP, which again led the WHL forwards.
All of his scoring rates were at the elite first line WHL rates, with his secondary assists being a little below everything else. He was the one creating the offence. Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan played nearly 70% of their time together and were dynamite.
Yamamoto had points in 54 of his 65 games with Spokane, and never went more than one game without a point. He was named to the WHL (West) Second All-Star Team.
He had one goal and one assists at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in January.
The right handed winger just completed his third full WHL season – he now has 227 points in 190 games in his career. This means that he will be able to go to the AHL at the start of the 2018-19 season, if the drafting team so chooses, as he will have completed four full seasons and will be 20 years old in September.
He has shown extremely well at the international level with 13 points in 7 games during the 2016 U18 World Juniors and 7 points in 4 games at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. He also played some games with USDTNP U17 and U18 teams, where he was dominant.
Given Yamamoto’s size, there is a small sample size to draw from but with pGPS, an impressive 55.5% of comparable players went onto becoming NHL regulars with Tyler Ennis being the closest comparable. There are some other intriguing players in that mix with Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher and Canucks alumni Cliff Ronning making appearances.
Not surprisingly, the comparable players were top 6 forwards. If Yamamoto is going to make it in the NHL, that is the role that he would need to carve out.
As mentioned above, Yamamoto and Ennis are the closest comparables but it would be expected that Yamamoto would be a slightly lower point producer at the NHL level but present higher value.
Lastly, using SEAL – Yamamoto pushed the 100 percentile in almost all offensive categories.
Obviously when to comes to actually selecting a player in the NHL Entry Draft, you have to be concerned about things like size. It’s not as easy as saying ‘he is really good, so let’s take him’. Yamamoto’s small stature has to be taken into consideration and is likely why he isn’t ranked higher. It will not be surprising to see the 5’8″ winger to be selected in the middle part of the first round or fall down a bit further.
But there is no denying the talent that he possesses. He is easily one of the most talented players in this draft and if a team isn’t scared of that size risk, they may walk away with a top 6 forward that will just keep producing as he progresses up the ladder.
Sometimes you just have to take the player who consistently produces everywhere he goes. Seems to have worked out okay so far with Alex Debrincat.